Inslee bills Washington taxpayers $26,000 for premium perks on climate trip

(The Center Square) – Gov. Jay Inslee brought his wife to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, sticking Washington taxpayers with the bill, which included more than $12,510.08 for business class airfare for the couple, something no other governor did at taxpayer expense.

Inslee led a delegation of subnational governments to the conference. The total travel tab for Washington taxpayers cost $25,955.32, more than any other U.S. state examined by The Center Square. The higher cost was due in part to the governor's decision to fly with his wife in business class while other governors who attended at taxpayer expense flew in less expensive seats.

Inslee was one of six state governors who attended the conference. All six are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group created in response to former President Donald Trump's climate policies. The other state leaders were New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Hawaii Gov. David Ige, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

In total, state documents obtained by The Center Square through open records requests show taxpayers in these six states spent more than $90,000 – not including most security costs – to send governors and other state employees to the conference in Glasgow in November 2021, during a time of pandemic restrictions, Zoom meetings and rising inflation.

The records detail what state leaders in Washington, New Mexico, Hawaii, Louisiana, Illinois, and Oregon did during the conference and how much it cost state taxpayers. Oregon was the only state that included the costs of providing security. The records from all other states examined didn't include security costs. Those costs likely added at least thousands of dollars for taxpayers in each state.

Inslee and his wife, Trudi, booked Aer Lingus business class seats for the 7-hour flight from Chicago to Dublin and later flew coach to Glasgow at a cost to taxpayers of $12,510.08. For the overnight Aer Lingus flight, the Inslees had access to "exclusive premium check-in areas," "luxurious airport lounges," "delicious in-flight cuisine," and "cosy lie-flat beds," according to the airline's website. Inslee flew out of Chicago O'Hare International Airport because he was in Chicago for 2024 campaign business at the time, according to campaign finance records.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards had a 10-hour flight in a premium economy seat. Taxpayers in Louisiana paid $2,108.78 for the flight, about a third of the cost of each of the Inslees' flights.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige also brought his wife, Dawn, to the conference. Ige paid the state back for the cost of his flight using campaign funds. They used personal funds to reimburse the state for the cost of his wife's flight.

Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks.com, said Inslee's travel expenses wouldn't go over well with constituents.

"Nothing rankles taxpayers more than spending hardworking taxpayer money on 'official' foreign travel junkets," Andrzejewski said. "People are still suffering from the pandemic and skyrocketing inflation, and Inslee is jet-setting around the world – seemingly sparing no expense."

Mike Faulk, deputy communications director for Inslee's office, told The Center Square it was vital for Trudi Inslee to attend the climate conference.

"Mrs. Inslee has been the governor’s closest adviser and confidant his entire career. Her presence anywhere contributes to the work of our office," Faulk said in response to questions about why the governor and his wife chose to fly business class at taxpayer expense when no other U.S. governors examined by The Center Square did so. "The trip to COP26 was well worth the costs paid by the governor’s office given the global leadership role Washington state government and industries play in solving climate change and creating jobs in the clean energy economy.

"The governor led a coalition of nearly 70 subnational governments to accelerate climate action and continues to lead that coalition to ensure progress in mitigating the climate crisis."

Faulk, who also attended the conference, flew coach but booked what a VRBO listing described as a "stunning" rental near the conference campus for $691 a night. The total cost to Washington taxpayers for Faulk's five-night stay: $3,782.14. Faulk said his stay wasn't covered by the Climate Registry, as many other costs were, because it was a late decision to send a communications staffer after bookings had already been made.

Faulk said the trip was important to stem climate change.

"When the governor decides whether a trip is worth the expense, he considers how it aligns with the policies we’re pursuing for Washington," he said. "COP26 was obviously relevant in myriad ways, from the over-arching goal of halting the march of climate change to the granular details of how national and subnational governments can implement policies – and help each other’s economies – together in ways that work for the planet and for people.

Inslee has made efforts to stem climate change a signature issue. He has proposed reducing Washington state’s emissions by modernizing building regulations for clean energy projects, making electric vehicles more affordable and decarbonizing homes and workplaces with the Climate Commitment Act.

"States in recent years have increasingly realized they don’t need to wait for national governments to implement these policies, that in fact they can drive change nationally and globally by working together," Faulk said.

The Climate Registry, a nonprofit organization, covered the cost of lodging and meals for the Inslees, Faulk said. He also said the nonprofit "offset the carbon impacts of the governor’s trip and the rest of their delegation."

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, paid his own way. State officials redacted all information from Pritzker's calendar about his flight except the name of the carrier, United Airlines.

The state provided flight details, including flight numbers and seat assignments, for all other government staff members who attended the conference but said the disclosure of Pritzker's flight information, including where he sat on the plane, would constitute an unwarranted invasion of his privacy because Pritzker paid for his own flight. In addition to paying for his own flight, Pritzker has paid key staff members a supplemental salary each year in addition to the money those employees earn from the state.

Intersect Illinois, a nonprofit business and economic development group funded by an Illinois state grant, paid for the flights of five members of Pritzker's staff to attend the conference.

Pritzker and his staff members also attended business meetings with trade groups, electric vehicle companies and officials from CME Group and BP Pulse, an electric vehicle charging company owned by the global oil and gas company. Pritzker's schedule also included a tour of Parliament in London and a photo at the Lincoln Statue in Parliament Square.

Inslee, Ige, Edwards and Pritzker were joined by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. Each governor except Pritzker disclosed where they sat on the plane during the international trip.

At $18,672.31, Louisiana taxpayers had the second-highest conference tab of the six states. Louisiana officials noted two members of the governor’s staff had not submitted reimbursement forms at the time The Center Square requested the records, but those costs aren't included in the $18,672.31.

Oregon taxpayers paid $18,586.11 for Gov. Kate Brown, staff members and security personnel to travel to the conference. Illinois taxpayers spent $14,284.15 for Pritzker and members of his staff to attend. In Hawaii, taxpayers paid $11,478.65.

The bill for New Mexico taxpayers was $0, according to spending records from the governor's office. New Mexico officials didn't respond to questions about how the trip was funded, but the Associated Press reported the Climate Registry and the Energy Foundation paid for trip expenses. The Center Square has requested, but not yet received, spending records from the New Mexico State Police, which provided security to the governor during the trip.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's schedule for the trip included sightseeing, such as a visit to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood House and Arthur's Seat and a bus tour of the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness.

In addition to food, travel and lodging, all six states paid hundreds of dollars for COVID-19 testing required for travel and for the conference.

Records from Oregon show members of the Oregon State Police's Dignitary Protection Unit accompanied the governor throughout the trip. Security costs included $2,765.18 for car service for the team while in Scotland and London and a $1,138.16 "no show" charge for two rooms booked at the W London, a 5-star hotel that security officials ended up not using because of a change in plans.

"There was a change in plans and the window for cancellation at the W London had closed," according to a memo included in the files.

The costs and carbon impact for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and her staff were offset by funding from the Climate Registry, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group "that empowers North American organizations to do more in the fight against climate change by providing services and tools that help them reduce their emissions."

Of the six states reviewed, only Oregon included security costs. The Washington State Police said if it finds records related to the cost of the trip, it will make those records available by May 19. The Louisiana State Police, Illinois State Police, New Mexico Department of Public Safety and Hawaii Department of Public Safety have yet to provide copies of records showing how much was spent on security for the trip.

All six governors are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, which Inslee started with former California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017 after former President Donald Trump changed U.S. climate goals. President Joe Biden has since reversed Trump's changes.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom pulled out of the trip at the last minute to go trick-or-treating with his children.

“Mom and Dad missing Halloween, for them that was worse than missing Christmas,” Newsom told his former economic adviser Lenny Mendonca during the California Forward economic conference in Monterey, according to a report from the Scotsman, a Scottish newspaper.

California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis went to the conference in his place. Her office produced records that showed the state spent at least $3,843.66 on the trip, but that did not include the costs of a security detail from the California Highway Patrol. The Center Square has requested cost records from that agency.

During the climate conference in Glasgow, the U.S. Climate Alliance announced "the next generation of 'High-Impact Actions' its states will pursue to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius," according to a news release from the group.

“The U.S. Climate Alliance’s states are leading the world in the development and execution of new, innovative, and effective climate policies and actions, and today, we continue to press forward,” U.S. Climate Alliance Acting Executive Director and Policy Director Taryn Finnessey said in a statement. “The climate threat knows no borders and when we share solutions and expertise – not just with one another in the Alliance, but also with other like-minded subnational leaders around the world – we can truly turn the tide.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, 19, called the climate summit a failure.

“It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure. It should be obvious that we cannot solve the crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place,” she said during a speech about two miles away from the conference center. “The COP has turned into a PR event, where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action.”

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